tv Federal Income Tax CSPAN February 10, 2013 2:00am-3:35am EST
-- paul revere's plans carried out in this church. we know that there was a plan that was set up ahead of time. he set it up on sunday of that year. we do not know who helped him to carry out that plan. >> the mystery of the old north church's lamp hangers. 100 years ago this month, the 16th amendment to the constitution was ratified, given congress the power to collect federal income tax. the urban institute posted a discussion focusing on the history of the federal income- tax and proposals to replace an and changing the income tax since ystem. this is an hour and 25 minutes.
>> that afternoon. welcome to the urban institute's first tuesday where we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the income-tax. my name is howard gleckman, the editor of the urban institute blog. a hundred years ago, delaware became the 36 state to ratify the amendment creating a modern income-tax. this one was memorialized in the constitution and we have had an income tax ever since. it is the tax we love to hate. in the 100 years, it has gone from a simple richman's tax to today's tax with a top rate north of 40%. williston churchill said we seem to think it is the worst possible tax -- winston
churchill said we seem to think it is the worst possible tax. to my far right, joseph thorndike, director of the tax history project. his latest book is "thei r fair share," out today, published by the urban institute press. eugene steuerle has written about tax policy. he has also lived it. nearly three decades ago, he was on the godfathers of what became the tax reform act of 1986. he holds the fisher chair at the urban institute. eric toder has been involved in the income tax at the treasury and irs. he is currently an urban institute fellow. finally, nina olson is taxpayer
advocate at the irs persian represent those of us who pay taxes -- at the irs where she represents those of us who pay taxes. office released its latest report on the state of the tax code. with joe who will give us a history of the income- tax. after we do a presentation, we will give everyone an opportunity to ask questions. for those watching on c-span or online, you can send in questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. >> i am glad to see there is a reasonable number of people here. i tell people i have the worst possible job for a cocktail party. they ask me what i do and it
brings the worst combination of april 15 and a high-school class somewhere. it is incredibly boring for so many people. and these that is the initial impression. i have been calling it an important moment for us to recognize -- 100 years of struggling with a tax everybody loves to hate. what is striking to me is that complaint about the income tax are just as old as the levy itself. many are exactly the same we have today. for instance, from the start, we have been calling this tax a convoluted nightmare. in 1915, two years after the first income tax was enacted, one critic said it is so complicated it is impossible to understand its meaning. americans have called the tax
intrusive and unfair and on american but all the complaining has done very little to slow its growth. the tax, the story of the income tax in united states is one of steady growth. and at some points, very quick growth. if we hate it so much, why does it grow steadily? every proposal to replace it has been considered and rejected over the years. the answer to the puzzle is to fold. the income-tax the two things quite well -- most important, it raises money. it turned out that this was a great with for the grant -- for the federal government to raise a lot of money quickly. but just as important in the long run is that the tax is also comported with notions of fairness, and least as americans
have voiced that the politics. we do not have a survey data for the early period but since this started polling in the 1930's, it has been very clear americans are reasonably tolerant of the income tax and will leave it meets some standard of fairness easily defined in terms of ability to pay. those things have done the whole job. the original tax was very small. top rate of 7% and extension of almost $100,000, adjusted for inflation. it was designed to to make this tax system fair or fairer. some look back and say we can learn about tax policy today. look how light it was. it is important to remember that just five years after the tax was enacted, the top rate was
77%. those same lawmakers who thought 7% was good in 1913 thought 77% was good five years later. there is a war in the middle and not the big difference. wars have a tendency to change it. world war i dramatically exchange -- dramatically changed the tax. in the war comes along -- another war comes along. world war ii transforms the class tax to a mass tax. number of homese filing increased tenfold. one scholar later observed the income tax changed its morning code for overalls -- its morning coat for overalls.
the transformation was important for two reasons. first, it made the federal income-tax the single largest source of federal revenue. it got that title some time in the 1930's. it is hard to imagine what we used to raise half of federal revenues by tax and consumer goods, especially out of hock and tobacco. that changes in the 1930's. ut in the 1940's, the war changed that once and for all. until the 1930's, the only daily contact or even weekly contact people have with the federal government was the post office. the tax system change that through withholding which comes
in during world war ii. we start to see the hand of the federal government in our paycheck and our lives. the transformed the way americans, about their government. they were getting benefits, things like social security. at the same time costs of government are more clear after the war. ontoe 1950's, they hold these ridiculous high rates, as high as the money for% -- as high as 94%. the reason is the president makes peace with the tax system he inherits from harry truman and is more interested in deficit reduction and that bank retirement than he is in a tax reduction. that does not mean there is no tax reduction in the 1950's. people who are fans of reason tax rates now and burdens on the
ich point back to the 1950's here is an era of good growth and we have these really high tax rates. taht's true but -- that's true but effective tax rates declined steadily during the 1950's. colom -- policymakers' fi figured out the deal. that would reduce the effecrtive ctive rate for most taxpayers. if you look up the actual rates being paid by people, they are dropping quite quickly. it is notionally high rates but
declining tax burdens. those high tax rates that economists loved to hate then did succumb to a democratic administration and then to the 1916's when the kennedy administration past the big tax cut -- democratic administration kennedy1960's when the administration passed the big tax cut. that is an unholy compromise. the rate reduction to the to the 1960's walked back a bit. broadening the base and lowering the rates was not there yet.
there is a general decline in public support for the income tax. isn't that it is not serving -- a sense that it is not serving its fairness goal carried -- its fairness goal. another fairness says those guys are getting away with murder. but they are undermining the legitimacy of the tax system. that has been a constant of american tax policy. roosevelt made a lot of use of it and erika the vincennes has. that started to pick up steam in in franklin0's --
roosevelt made a lot of use of it and it picked up since then. that started to pick up street in the late 1960's. >> joe had eight minutes to discuss about 65 years of tax policy. i have eight minutes to discuss 35 years. i often divide the post war era into. three into -- era into three parts. the ear of ec finance -- the era of easy finance. almost every major tax act is a tax cut. there is one exception -- amild surtax in 1960/
9. in the carter administration, taxes went up almost as much as they would be lowered and then to the reagan tax cuts. starting after 1981, we had a fiscal straitjacket era. every major initiative on the budget and up to be on the tape the wayside. we decided we had to do something about getting the budget in order, tax reform in 1986, social security reform in 1983. almost every initiative and up,
take away side of the budget. initiativeverett initiatalmosty ends up on the take away cited the budget. -- take away side of the budget. you might wonder how this all works out. there is a balance sheet. the government that joe says we were left with after the two world wars, it is many economic growth that provides additional revenues. from to ronald -- from ronald reagan to today, the economy has basically doubled in size. whether we go up a few percentage points a the the the
tax rate, it is not the dominant source of growth. flexibility allows congress to decide whether to give that back to people in tax cuts or to do spending increases. but media budget tightening from 1982-1987, today so much has been given a way that even revenue growth comes along. that is the broad history of what is going on during this time, the extent to which commitments from the past are eating away at the above and is degette -- eating away at the revens we get. i don't want to spend too much time on it and i do want to focus on the tax reform act of
1986. people keep posting this as a model for what we can do today. 1981 is the last of the major giveaways of this era. msot think -- most think 1981 defines the reagan administration. how are we going to deal with things? 1982 and 1984. in 1986, we try something revenue neutral. it is not about shifting. we are not going to change the size of government. what that does at that point in time, it takes off the table the two major items over which congress will essentially focus almost all of its attention -- size of government and
progressivity of the tax system. it is hard to the traditional tax reformers, those who worry about simplicity and equal treatment of people, those issues come to the fore only when you can push aside the big debates over size of government. that is what happened that allow tax reform in 1986. e two big trade offs -- we had growing amount of tax shelters. these were doctors and lawyers and professionals, middle and upper middle income people finding ways mainly through partnerships to invest in yield is extraordinary amount of
negative statements of income. there are not necessarily losing income. it was being accrued over here but there were getting all sorts of deductions. reagan wanted to lower rates. it was a great compromise. let's get rid of these tax shelters that favor those at the higher income distribution in exchange for lower rates. happened wasg that inflation had moved many of the ppor of the tax -- of the poor out of the tax [indiscernible] and lead to a high increase in the taxes paid by families with children relative to families without children. because of the erosion of things like puck -- erosion of things like personal exemptions. \ here is one where those who
started favoring pro family whod unite with liberals did not want to tax the poor. that led to another compromise. people look back and say why can members of congress get along today -- why can't members of congress get along today? they do not remember the 1980's as much as those who live through it. congress burst out in laughter. democrats distrusted reagan given previous enactments, they did not expect a steady to come out of treasury. they found through proposals that dealt with principles that appealed to both sites that they could find some common area of agreement. after, ronald after there has
been no president -- after ronald reagan, there has been the president's interested in getting the buk out of the tax code. that debate has dominated the public sphere. both party seven acted many new tax provisions that have added to all of the tax subsidies, expenditures. back into these issues of how large do we want government and to what extent do we what the system to be more progressive? that era is coming to an end. has ended because we
have gone through a time where we have the great recession, entitlements. we have so many things that have come together. the are in a new fiscal era. -- we are in a new fiscal era. i will let nina tell us how we can solve the problem. >> thank you. as you have heard, the income- tax is the dominant way we raise revenue in the united states, at least at the federal level. however, there has always been substantial opposition to the income tax.
tax experts have debated whether the right basis for imposing taxes is consumption or income. this is an old debate. risch -- beginning in the 1970's, there was growing academic support for replacing income tax with a consumption tax. i will discuss the reasons for that. and some of the reasons why that might have been a bad idea and why it has not happened. to start off, it is just a definition -- what is a consumption tax? we all look at we tell taxes and say that is what it is but it is much more than that. if you look broadly at how people use their income, they use it to ways -- to spend money. or save money.
there are lots of ways to do that. there is not one consumption tax alternative, there are many. the four major ones -- the retail sales tax from the state practice, tax on the consumption when people buy goods is all collected from businesses. the more common version of the sales tax and use in europe, new zealand, australia and 150 countries around the world, that is a tax on value added which is basically a retail sales tax collected at each stage of production. so is the value added by each stage and it adds up to retail sales at the end. those two taxes are collected
only from. from the third version is collected partly from businesses, partly from households. that is often called a flat tax. it is simply a value added tax but instead of collecting on all value added to businesses, the businesses get a reduction to wait is paid to employees and employees pay a tax on the wages they receive. that is a popular version has been promoted in the united states. the final version and the flat tax as, a single as there is the x tax. all fromollect it household in the form of that personal income tax. you deduct in the amount you put
into savings accounts. as the the try to add up everything he spent, you look at your income, subtract your net savings and that is your tax base. in all of these, capital purchases by businesses are deductible and that is what makes them consumption tax. who is for these things? there is a long history. daivd hume, the scott as philosopher, favre taxes on the ground there were voluntary -- favor consumption taxes on the ground they were voluntary. you could avoid them if you wanted to. alexander hamilton has a similar perspective. he favored consumption taxes because he believed they cannot be raised to ruinous levels. he also probably wanted to discourage imports but that is another issue. in the mid 20th century, the
most famous proponents were irving fisher, a u.s. economist. he david a. spending tax -- he favored a spendings tax. the secretary of the treasury proposed such a tax in 1942 and was laughed out of consideration. anyway, who was a proponent of that. then there was nicolas caldor wrote a book in 1955. the bees on that came from both the right and left. it was exempt savings and to help growth and not worry about progressivity so much. from the leftfromcaldor -- from the left, caldor view it as a
way of getting at the waltealth. now we go onto more modern proposals. starting in the 1970's's. 1976, the treasury put out a tax reform proposal. there were two model taxes. the author of that study was pushing the consumption tax idea. the book caught a lot of attention. that was an individual tax with deductions for savings. in a big influence on that was a
harvard professor who was an advocate of a consumption tax. this is surfaced later in a proposal that of the 1990's call the usa tax in which my colleague was one of the designers. a second idea that was popular was the flat tax, a book by professors at stanford originally published in 1982. it was not an original idea her with them. it came from a milton friedman book. there was an eye chapter on the tax -- there was a chapter on the tax. this was picked up by dick army and presidential candidate steve
forbes in the 1990's. then david bradford cam bacl. with the proposal for the x tax, a flat tax with graduated rates. that is still popular. there is also the so-called fair tax, a retail sales tax. then there is an interesting plan which would be a value added tax which will collect most of the revenue. retain an income tax with a high exemption level.
some people say consumption tax promotes economic growth and competitiveness because you remove the tax on a return to savings. competitiveness, because it is that the nation based, it exempts exports and taxes imports. fairness issues -- and simplicity issues are not often referred to but they were stressed in the blueprints of volume. the idea that a consumption tax better measures income to pay over somebody's life time in contrast an income tax with the same present volume of lifetime income. saying it discriminates against those whose earnings patterns are such that they earned
earlier in life so they have to say more to smooth out their lifetime consumption. the other argument on grounds for some of the city was if we did not have an income tax, he would not have to worry about issues relating to the measurement of the capital income for such as how to tax capital gains, the corporate income tax, inflation adjustment. but there are a number of reasons why people were concerned about these approaches. one was concerns about fairness and progressivity. the ones collected from business, it was impossible to make them truly progressive. the ones collected from individuals, there was concern about you could get the rates, and of the top level to compensate for the fact you are exempting savings. there are a lot of concerns
about how you could administer them and concerns about transition issues. how do you go from one tax to another? for these and other political reasons, these have never happened. our friends on the conservative movement are always worried about at the gannett tax source -- about adding a new tax source. the future -- some brief comments. we are running into a long-term budget problems and the current income tax may not be up to the task of raising some of it can ravenous -- of raising some significant revenues.
globalization is a harder to tax investment income -- globalization makes it harder to tax investment income. the idea of replacing the income tax with a consumption tax has failed, even though it persists, but i do think we need to think seriously about rebalancing our system and may be raising more revenue from consumption that we currently do. park>> i am here today to talk about the impact of all the
changes on the internal revenue service. when youhe mid-1990s's wrote a check to pay your taxes, you wrote a check to the irs. i cannot tell you how many people talk to me about the internal revenue code and call it the internal revenue service code, thinking the irs has control over the law, which has virtually no control. congress passed a law that says you have to write your checks to the u.s. treasury. in voume ii of our 2011 annual report, we published a study of the irs code which looked at the irs perspective, with the changes did to the irs tax collector.
the system started out as raising revenue primarily, most affluent. in 1916, over 27% of returns were filed by merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, and doctors. the cadets in the expansion -- you get that significant expansion. the middle-class becomes the tax base. in the late 20th century, you see the expansion, bringing low income population to its. you see the transformation of the tax collector into it is purser -- into a disperser of government payments and benefits. in 1913, the individual taxpayer
population was 350,000. it was 47 million. today, it is 141.2 million taxpayers. the irs's response has been to respond to this burgeoning of the taxpayer population by doing more automation and move away from personal contact. i will talk about the consequences of that but i want to talk about the diversity of the taxpayer population today and what the virus has to deal with. and based on a 2010 census, the united states population today, a quarter of the individuals and identify themselves as minority. and does not include hispanics. one half of them identify themselves as white.
a fifth of the population speaks languages other than english at home. 15.1% are in poverty. 13% are over or equal to age 65. 21% live in rural areas. that is the population the irs is dealing with today. in 1913, the personal exemption was $3,000, about $65,000 in $2,011. in 1918, only 15% of american families pay income taxes. in 1944, the standard deduction was $5,000, about $62,500 in $2,011.
today almost half of the u.s. population are return filers. hist -- each year, the irs is struggling with an increasingly complex code. we have laid your tax law changes. -- we have late law tax changes. we are struggling with identity theft and refund fraud and new dispersed and programs -- and new dispersement programs.
they were enacted late in teh year that the irs had to turn on a dime and now we have health care. to give you some sense of scale in the disbursements we're paying out, for the 2011 tax year, for the earned income tax credit, at the end of the day, 27.4 million taxpayers claimed the earned income tax credit in 2011. we disburse $62.5 billion. that is an enormous amount of money. the irs code -- the estimated
that it takes taxpayers 6.1 billion hours to meet their annual filing requirements. just to do your filing every year. that translates into 3 million full-time workers. the code is almost 4 million words long. we accounted 4,500 changes i since 2001. 59% of individual taxpayers pay someone else to prepare their returns. software. onlyl 11% sit down and try to
rustle through unassisted. 71% of sole proprietors use paid prepares. the role of software as an in a blur of complexity cannot be underestimated. -- role of software as an enabler of complexity cannot be underestimated. they have no idea about the computations. that allows these competitions to reside in the code because no one is sitting there screaming you are making me go through these steps and divide by 64 and add 28 and multiplied by 11 to get something.
these things are not benign in terms of compliance. we did a national survey of sole proprietors. what we found was only 16% said they believe tax laws are fair. that is the largest part of the tax cap so they have the greatest opportunity to not comply. only 12% believe taxpayers pay their fair share of taxes and 73% said the wealthy had ways to minimize taxes not available to
the average taxpayer. our study lays out there is a direct correlation between distrust in the virus -- distress in the irs and federal government and noncompliance. what is the irs doing with all this? it is collecting about 96% of the federal revenue that comes in. we collected $2.52 trillion and a budget of $11.8 billion. but it has been cut for the last two years adnd we stil l don't know what the budget is.
we are essentially not answering one of the every three phone calls of people who want to get to a life assistor. people have to wait 17 minutes on average to get to that live assistor. it is over 6.5 weeks old before we get a response to people. the picture does not look very good from here. the irs' response is to turn to automation which means there's less opportunity for it to actually talk to taxpayers and find out what they are saying and what help they really need. if i have the fate -- if i have painted a fairly depressing picture, it is because i view it as such. >> thank you.
a want to start with eric's issues. sometimes we think about consumption tax as a binary choice. talk about how the current income tax is a hybrid. >> and there are transactions in the individual income tax which are taxed the way they would be under a consumption tax. the obvious one is the way you contribute to your 41 k plan -- 401 k plan or your ira. you accrue the income tax free and only pay taxes when they pull out of retirement. that is exactly the way a consumption tax would to cut the transaction. if you combine that with te
fact we did not return to honor occupied housing, you are treating the investments under consumption tax treatment. we do not have a consultant tax system, we have a corporate income tax system that has depreciation. we are -- they have very complicated rules for international taxation. and for high-income, they pay taxes on their investment income. so we have kind of hybrid. >> transition to a consumption tax may not be as big a leap? guesthat is true but it was stia big leap. >> joe, tell us about the discussion of consumption taxes over the years and why this
never got anywhere. >> the income tax really comes out of a consumption tax regime. up until the income-tax, almost all of the derivative as coming from tariff duties and if you excise taxes. taxes on alcohol and tobacco. that is where the federal government got its money. the complaint was it was aggressive. it was some degree a regional complaint. southerners and westerners were not happy with that sort of system and call for an income tax. the income tax is a reaction to a consumption tax regime. almost from the start, people were making the same case, we were taxing the wrong thing. we should not be taxing savings and investments.
we should be facilitating investment in the economy. in 1921, there was a proposal for a national sales tax. it is a republican and conservative old school republican who prevents that from happening. and it's sort of saved income- tax and a time where it might have been vulnerable. andrew mellon says no, we're going to keep this tax and lower the rates. the idea of shifting to a consumption tax or adding a major broadbased consumption tax to the mix keeps sticking around. by then roosevelt considers it in the beginning of the 1930 -- franklin roosevelt considers it in the beginning of the 1930's.
the obvious choice is to raise more money with the income tax but a lot of people say that as the wrong idea, " we should do is create a new national sales tax. there are a lot of proposals out there that get a long way to the process to create a true national sales tax. a treasury official added 1940's said -- treasury officials aid in the 1940's income tax critics have almost always wanted a sales tax instead, or a consumption tax and the. -- or a consumption tax
instead. congress really abandons or scales back in revenue sold as working well. there was no compelling reason to make these changes. maybe it would have been good for the economy or have spurred growth by congress as i usually act on that kind of suggestion. congress tends to do major tax reform only when they have to, not when they should. there has never been a have to that has produced a consumption tax. >> we have a website where we have asked people to send in their tax reform comments. people say we need to get rid of the income tax and replace it with a sales tax they get rid of the irs. you think well, wait, who do you think will collect that sales tax?
there is a mis comprehension about the operations. if you look in the state law, you will see the car out of exemptions. they are as complex as some of the tax preferences we have in our code. >> the nature of accounting systems of how the influence the development of tax policy. i go back to the history of conversion from tariff to an income tax, what makes this possible is the growth of the modern corporation. they develop the accounting systems that keep track of who got wages, who has what. for them to operate officially
-- to operate efficiently, they have to keep track of it. it is a little large business that is the main instrument for implementing a tax system. they are the ones to keep most of the records. despite the fact we had one in the civil war, as does not work with the nation of farmers and small businesses. in the modern era, there is another story missing -- the extent to which transfer systems interact with the tax code. the consumption tax, if you
consumption tax and not worry about these other accounting issues is a myth. >> in 1937, franklin roosevelt said the following -- if congress passes a tax act ended a good faith and somebody comes along and discovers some new loophole, is that the moral thing to do or not, even if it is the legal thing? since 1937, at least, politicians have been talking about loophole closing. as not just a valuable financial step but also as a moral question. now we are in the middle of having the same argument again about closing loopholes. i like to ask about this issue a loophole closing. house important is it to real tax reform -- how important is it to real tax reform?
>> use the word mccaul, a charged word. -- you use the word loophole, a charged word,. . you look at things like the exemption of employer contributions to health care and mortgage interest deductions and these are where the big numbers come from. i do not think most people think of those things as loopholes. these are policy choices we have made. they made the wrong policy choices but they are not willing the polls. i cannot think that is what fdr had in mind when he made that statement. we talked about carried interest, whether that should be capital gain or ordinary income. many others can be identified.
for the sake of perceived fairness and economic equity, we should be going after. could this unfortunate people think you can do that and release of the budget problem -- it is unfortunate people think you can do that and really solve the budget problem. >> before the taxes and mass tax, every loophole will want to a . for some -- evry loophole along to a rich person. -- every loophole belonged to a rich person.
in the early 1930's, they bring wall street guys to testify on capitol hill because they were not paying income taxes because they were taking huge losses when the market crashed. they enact a lot of changes to the tax system. politicians are usually pretty savvy about exploiting loopholes to get the kind of tax reforms they want. that goes on even now. loophole is another word for another person's tax preferences. where i work, we are not allowed to use the word loophole. it implies they are an accident but most of the more liberal insertions. americans -- it colors their
idea of how well the tax system works. to some degree, it is destructive for the vitality and survival of the tax system. then they could lose faith in te he whole system and that as a problem. >> economists always talk about broadening the base, lowering the rates. politicians and the narrowing the base and raising the rates. - politicians end up narrowing the base and raising the rates. do you see this changing? >> there are two issues -- do you want the particular subsidy you have and do you want